Incremental or Radical Change

I’ve been working with some of the new JISC Transformations Projects and looking back at the previous Building Capacity Projects, both of these programmes are based around deploying JISC resources to bring about organisational change. Following a conversation with a someone from Gartner late in 2011 it got me thinking about some of the peripheral things that I’ve been working on and engaging with, such as social media and new approaches in education, for example MOOCs.

By and large with the Organisational Change funded projects early success has been driven by need, opportunity and leadership. For example, where institutions have identified that they have needed to enhance or improve their student assessment processes as result of feedback; opportunities are identified to innovate and improve at whatever level and brought forward (in an ideal world) to senior managers who can provide leadership and drive change forward. In the case of the Transformations Projects (and Building Capacity projects before them) a small amount of funding being made available increased the ‘value’ (or impact?) of the opportunity.

Early indicators from the Building Capacity Projects, some of which completed over a year ago, is that the change has stuck, the innovation as become embedded in process. The programme evaluation identified that leadership, need and opportunity were key to project success. A cursory look at the opportunities (JISC Resources) applied to institutional needs revealed that whilst there were various characteristics that were problem specific, the main common four were:

  • They had been used elsewhere and shown to work
  • In many cases they were small innovations, or ‘tweaks’ to existing processes
  • Technology being deployed was proven in at least a similar context
  • There was a small learning curve for any staff that had to engage with the change

Additionally, and comparing the projects with the social media and emerging technology projects and initiatives I had been involved with in the past, it was also obvious that a key success factor was that they fitted to existing intuitional structures and practices.

The conversation I had late in 2011 identified that approaches to an expanding education ecosystem, such as the application of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and others would probably gain more traction in 2012, depending on other the availability of a range of other processes and technologies (such as micro payments and ‘open’). But, whilst we discussed this there were very examples that we could point to where their application had been applied and brought within the mainstream of institutional practice. However, the characteristics of approaches such as MOOCs could be aligned to the four characteristics identified above – there are a few examples of them working; it may only need a tweaks to practice; the technology works; and in many cases staff already know how to use the tools and for example, how to teach.

Using Dave Whites research that describes individual’s activity online in terms of them being visitors or residents  it occurred to me that much of the emerging practice required online ‘residency’ in order to make it happen. Whereas the incremental innovation could (and is often) achieved through a visitors approach. Some may consider that the small changes are not innovation, but they are on the innovation continuum, it may take several miles to move a supertanker, but in the end the effect is the same.

I think of the MOOCs and the people who are now engaging with them and running them as more radical (in a very positive sense of the word) in their innovation. But they are, in terms of the visitor-residency principle, resident in their context. This is especially true of people involved educational technology, where a community has developed that crosses international boundaries. Conversations with colleagues on other continents requires out of hours working. Even when an initiative is driven by people in the same time zone a lot of online out of hours interaction is occurring. Dave White recently described the work that had gone on in Building Capacity Projects, and the upcoming Transformations Projects as “Making stuff better”, it can occur with the bounds of institutional operations, and it as potential to gain traction very quickly. But I am and have been involved in the other innovation, the radical and rapid that requires residency. In 2012 I think the challenge for that kind of work, and the people who are designing and developing it is to attempt to transfer it for use by the majority of people in our education system, those who are visitors online? Furthermore, can it be shown to be developed and run within the current institutional practices?

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